Buffalo traveled to the Wells Fargo Center tonight to face off the Philadelphia Flyers. Philadelphia came into tonight losers of 3 straight and looking to bounce back hoping to find themselves moving towards a playoff position. While Buffalo, still far from a shot at the postseason, is still growing steadily.
Tonight was a special night for one Sabre in particular, as Justin Bailey made his NHL debut! The 20-year-old product of Williamsville, New York got his first chance to impress wearing blue and gold during the regular season.
Let’s just say, the kid can definitely play.
Finding himself in the right spot on multiple occasions in the first two periods, Bailey came very close to putting away his first goal very early into his career. Combine that with the strong skating he put on display, it won’t be long until we see him again.
Overall, the first period wasn’t all that busy for either team. Both found the penalty box a combined 4 times (Buffalo: 1), but neither could muster any real opportunities to grab a first period lead.
But despite being outshot in the first frame, the Flyers came storming onto the ice in the Second period as R.J. Umberger (Ahhh, the hit) and Brayden Schenn scored less than a minute apart to give Philly a 2-0 lead. Buffalo did not respond after the first 2 and Wayne Simmonds made it a 3-0 game before the halfway point of the second period.
Buffalo had several opportunities throughout the first two periods with the man advantage. The Sabres are ranked 6th in the NHL in terms of successful powerplay opportunities. But that didn’t mean much for tonight, as both units couldn’t manage any real chances on net after 5 powerplays.
Both units looked disorganized. I was watching the game from home, but from what I noticed, there wasn’t much conversation on the ice with the man advantage.
And after the Sabres missed on their fifth man advantage, Michael Raffl found space between Sam Reinhart and Zach Bogosian and put a snapshot by the glove of Robin Lehner, making it a 4-0 lead for the Flyers.
Don’t worry, everyone. It’s gets better. I mean, if you’re already sold into the Auston Matthews draft. Then yeah. It totally gets better.
There was a penalty after the play, as Marcus Foligno took offense to a hip check just prior to the goal itself. Luckily, it remained 4-0 after the penalty kill. (Huzzah!)
At this point, Robin Lehner must be exhausted and frustrated with how much this defense has struggled mightily over the past few games.
After two periods, the Flyers left Buffalo at the starting gate with a 4-0 lead despite being outshot 24-20.
(At this point, I’m yelling at Ryan Wolfe via text message for making me watch this game.)
Heading into the 3rd, Buffalo finally showed signs of life. They began the period outshooting the Flyers and eventually spoiled Steve Mason’s shutout making it a 4-1 game.
But it wasn’t long until that momentum was entirely shutdown, ass Nick Cousins worked Justin Bailey off the puck at the Philadelphia blue line and fired a shot by Robin Lehner. Lehner was way out of his crease to try and cut off any open areas, but Cousins threaded the needle to make it 5-1 for the traffic cones. This was also his first career goal, so a happy congratulations to him!
Things got a little out of control as Radko Gudas targeted the head of Dan Catenacci who was already being tied up by another Flyer. As soon as the hit happened, Jake McCabe went straight for Gudas, showing his disapproval Gudas received a 5 minute charging call and didn’t play for the rest of the night. I know it’s not my job, but that should really go to NHL player safety, as Gudas hit almost nothing but the head of Catenacci.
As for the remainder of the game, Buffalo had another powerplay that ended without a goal. This would make them 0 for 6 for the night. With 30 seconds remaining after, the Sabres were just looking to get out of the Wells Fargo Center so they could focus on the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow night.
- Justin Bailey
For his first time in the NHL, Bailey proved that he has the foundation and skill set that can eventually translate to playing on an NHL roster on a day-to-day basis. His performance may have been highlighted with the rest of the team playing so poorly, but Justin played a solid game with over a half-dozen shots on goal and plenty of strong skating in the dirty areas of the ice.
Bailey had a few great chances at goal, and give credit to Steve Mason, who robbed Bailey of a goal in the dying minutes of the game.
As far as a debut is concerned, Justin Bailey was impressive. He soaked in his first few moments as an NHL pro, and was easily one of the more efficient Sabres of the night as he totaled 11:54 TOI.
- Robin Lehner
Another shaky night for the Sabres #1 goaltender, as he allowed 4 goals in a single period. The Flyers offense was all over the Sabres throughout the second period, as Lehner often found himself extremely busy throughout the middle frame.
While many continue to mercilessly voice the opinion that Tim Murray as overpaid for him still, this wasn’t a game where you stare at the goaltender and instantaneously point the finger his way. Again.
Which leads me into my next take…
- Defensive corps struggle again
No doubt this was another mediocre performance from the blueliners. The Flyers scored twice on breakaways. While men like Cody Franson aren’t known for their speed, it seemed as though Buffalo’s defense had ankle weights strapped to them.
Philadelphia moved the puck with ease for most of the night, often leaving the Buffalo defense scrambling back into position.
With the exception of Jake McCabe, every Sabre D-man was a negative in the +/- column. Most of whom were a minus 2.
- Powerplay woes
Buffalo went 0-for-6 tonight with the man advantage. For a team ranked 6th in the league at over a 21% success rate, tonight was definitely an off night for the Sabres special teams. But what the biggest concern for this team is the depth at powerplay.
When one looks at the top unit (Eichel, O’Reilly, Kane, Eichel, Ristolainen) one would salivate uncontrollably. I know I do. But look at the second unit. Moulson, Gionta, Legwand, Franson, etc… and one would then struggle with a chronic case of dry mouth.
While Buffalo’s powerplay can be great, if the first unit can’t get settled in or doesn’t score in the first minute, the odds of seeing Buffalo score a PPG drops off a cliff. A really really REALLY high cliff.
- Where is Ryan O’Reilly?
O’Reilly last scored on January 8th in a 3-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Surely he hasn’t been invisible since that last goal, but he hasn’t been able to command the puck and the play around him as he used to before. Could it be defenses learning how to keep him at bay as games? Possibly. But he appears to be somewhat snakebitten as well. Pucks rolling, bouncing off the tape of his stick, and passes to the wrong foot are often the catalyst, preventing him from shooting efficiently.
Hopefully he find a way out of this slump soon, because the Sabres cannot afford to lose his scoring prowess for much longer. If this noticeable dip continues for O’Reilly, hopefully one (or more) skaters can find a groove to get the offense going.
And if not, then Buffalo will be slowly teetering towards DEFCON 1. He’s simply too vital to this team to not produce.